Tackling congestion in Cambridge

What’s it all about?

If you live in or around Cambridge you may have heard of the Greater Cambridge City Deal. It is a deal by which central government is providing finance to the Greater Cambridge area with the aim of “[helping] secure future economic growth and quality of life in the Greater Cambridge city region“. More information about the deal between central government and Greater Cambridge can be found here.

The City Deal is broken down in to the four main areas of transport, housing, skills and innovation; and at the moment the focus is on transport, with a key City Deal consultation closing on Monday 10th October (tomorrow!).

I had hoped to find the consultation on the ‘consultations’ page of the City Deal website, but when I clicked on the link there was no mention of this consultation. Instead you have to visit www.gccitydeal.co.uk/congestion. The City Deal say they are seeking people’s views from 11th July to Monday 10th October, but they have not given a time cut off – so it’s not clear whether the deadline is the beginning of Monday or the end of Monday. Given the ambiguity, I would hope that they will still consider all responses received at any time on Monday itself.


There are various elements to the City Deal’s transport proposals and most of these will affect Mill Road, whether directly or indirectly. Through chats with lots of local residents and businesses I’m hearing that although a number of local people seem to be aware of some kind of transport discussion, most haven’t seen a leaflet (I don’t think the City Deal delivered these through doors in Cambridge, though a kind local resident put some through some of our doors in the Mill Road area just a few days ago) and many had no idea that there was a consultation about to close. As there has not been an official City Deal meeting held in the Mill Road area, this is not surprising.

Of those that are aware of the proposals, many did not realise what the implications might be. For example, I have spoken to a few people about the proposed Peak-time Congestion Control Points (PCCPs) that are planned for Cambridge (including one on Mill Road) and most assumed that there would of course be exceptions for local residents and businesses. However, I was at a City Deal meeting recently and was told by officers that exceptions would not be made in these instances.

What are PCCPs?

The Peak-time Congestion Control Points (PCCPs) are points at which only buses, cycles and emergency vehicles will be given permission to cross during peak hours (expected to be 7-10am and 4-6:30pm) without incurring a fine. ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras will be in place at the points and will fine all vehicles that pass the points but do not have permission – expected to be a fine of £60.

Will PCCPs affect businesses?

There is a lot of concern about the PCCPs, as it is felt that there are a lot of exceptions that would need to be made – and the amount of exceptions would make it unviable and indeed cost the City Deal/Councils more in administration. For example, local businesses are understandably concerned that this would affect their ability to receive deliveries from their suppliers, their ability to deliver to clients and the ability of customers to shop with them. Rather than bringing people to high streets, this will discourage shopping and affect the local economy. Having worked at local companies that receive deliveries, I know that you need to be flexible about when you can receive them – otherwise suppliers just won’t deliver to you.

Will PCCPs affect people’s health, care and wellbeing?

Another concern – perhaps the greatest concern of all – that I have heard from a number of people is that regarding health and care. For example, many people have carers come and visit them at their homes in the Mill Road area and wider Cambridge, or live in these areas and travel to other parts of the city to care for people; or they help people by doing their shopping for them. Some of these might be more formal care arrangements, often through a private company, but many are more informal arrangements – e.g. between friends and contacts. Some carers balance work with caring and may carry out caring duties on the way to work (peak time), and patients who need help getting out of bed and preparing breakfast will undoubtedly need carers to attend some time between 7 and 10am. If these carers and helpers cannot travel to/from those who they’re helping at any time, then this could greatly affect these formal and informal services. For example, if a carer cannot travel by car to visit patients, they may not be able to visit at all. Although we should of course be aiming to reduce travelling by car, this is an area where it may not be practical to do so. For example, carers often have to carry medical equipment, shopping, cleaning equipment and other colleagues with them – and this would not be possible at peak times. Care is necessary at all times of day, not just outside of 7-10am and 4-6:30pm.

The other concern in this regard is that private care companies would greatly reduce the care they provide, and charge more for what care they do provide (i.e. pass extra costs on to customers), if they are regulated by PCCPs – for example, it would take longer for carers to travel between patients, and therefore reduce what they are able to do. The introduction of PCCPs could also affect the ability of Cambridgeshire County Council Social Services, community nurses, Papworth Trust, community rehabilitators and those providing re-ablement to patients leaving hospital, to provide care and support to people that need it when they need it, therefore reducing people’s quality of life. If the amount of day when they are able to do this reduces, this will limit the number of people they can help and the extent to which they can help them.

Another health-related concern is that it could delay patients attending doctors surgeries, health centres, out of hours doctors services and Addenbrookes. I have learnt from experiences with my own family and friends recently that Addenbrookes now will often contact a patient on the day or the day before, to ask that a patient attend for an appointment. This means there are no official appointment letters (probably a good thing, as Addenbrookes try to reduce their reliability on paper) and patients might have just an hours notice to attend for an appointment. If people are having to take large detours to get to hospital, they could miss these appointments. Although some patients could travel by bus, many will not be able to – bus journeys in Cambridge are often rough (with drivers accelerating and decelerating suddenly) and not good for those who are already sick and suffering with nausea and other symptoms.

Some patients (e.g. oncology) often have to visit Addenbrookes every weekday for several weeks, with the following day’s appointment often being given/updated at each appointment; and with Papworth moving to Cambridge in April 2018, the number of oncology appointments in Cambridge will greatly increase (thousands already use Papworth at it’s current location each year). These are appointments where friends and relatives might drive the patient to Addenbrookes (Addenbrookes does not have the facility to provide transport themselves). It is possible to claim back mileage in some cases, and I guess with the introduction of PCCPs this would mean that people’s mileage claims would potentially be larger – costing Addenbrookes more money.

Those of you who have tried to get a doctor’s appointment in Cambridge recently will be aware that most surgeries operate a system by which you have to be one of the lucky handful of patients to phone them at 8:30am sharp to get an appointment on the same day, and that if you don’t take the given appointment (which might be just a few minutes later) then you are likely to have to wait anywhere between two and four weeks for an appointment. PCCPs could affect the ability of people to get to appointments on time, which in turn could affect the number of people attending A&E (people should of course only visit A&E in an emergency, but with no minor injuries units or urgent care centres in Cambridge, A&E attendance is ever-increasing). Also, depending on the condition that the patient needs to see the doctor about, they may not be able to walk and so will need to travel by car.

Doctors also carry out home visits and these are typically done either in the beginning part of the day or end of the working day i.e. peak hours. Doctors travelling in their cars to patients at home are not emergency vehicles (and therefore are not exempt from the £60 fines), although the patient is obviously in some need if they cannot get to a surgery themselves. The PCCPs could affect the number of home visits a doctor does, or indeed whether they do them at all.

As a local resident, I can thankfully get most things I need on Mill Road and so will probably not go in to town during peak hours unless I have time to walk there and back (a minimum one hour’s round trip). But I can think of occasions where it would be useful to be able to drive in during peak hours – such as with a friend or relative who needs to visit town but who is unable to walk very far, or who is recovering from an injury.

Childcare is also an issue. During peak hours there are a lot of journeys being made where people have to drop their children off with childcare providers/family, before making their own journeys to work; and these journeys are often already made on a very tight schedule and routine, especially where people have to drop off children at more than one location. Having to make longer journeys may mean that it’s just not possible to do the journey and get to work on time.

The City Council’s own refuse vehicles and other Council vehicles will also have to pay the fines for passing PCCPs (i.e. a refuse lorry is not an emergency vehicle, bus or cycle) and these vehicles typically do their collections throughout the City from 7am on weekdays. I wonder how much these fines will cost the City Council and how this will affect their operations.

Have people been consulted on the planned PCCPs?

Apparently the discussions have been going on since July, but I (and many others) was not aware of any official City Deal events about the Mill Road congestion control point, and have only recently found out about it and that apparently there was an event held on Hills Road about the congestion points affecting Mill Road (rather than hold an event in the Mill Road area itself).

Although some political parties have held their own events, I think most local residents look to an official notification or event (rather than a party political one) for confirmation, and so will have missed some events; and without leaflets being delivered to every address locally, people just won’t be aware. Although some people will be aware of articles in the local press, it’s worth noting that Cambridge News circulation dropped by 50% between 2001 and 2011 and that people are increasingly looking to other sources to get their news.

People are concerned about the proposals themselves.

People are also concerned that they have not had time to consider the proposals properly and respond appropriately.

On Thursday last week, there was a protest against the PCCP proposals in Cambridge (more links to information about the protest are here and there are further protests planned soon). There have also been specific concerns raised by local commentators (such as this video and this blog post), teachers, vets, Mill Road traders, local councillorssocial scientists, local community groups (like this one), charities (like this one) and local businesses, (including Fitzbillies) and small businesses, not to mention several local residents and employees (like this example from my Twitter feed); and there have been various petitions set up too, including one on the Change.org website and one set up by a collective of local businesses.

What else is in the City Deal proposal?

There are a number of elements to the City Deal proposals regarding transport. These include some very welcome initiatives, such as the Chisholm Trail and other cycling schemes. However, it seems that there is still a lot of work to do in order to secure/improve the quality of life for people living in and around Cambridge. For example, there is a proposed busway planned for Cambridge to Cambourne (which has received a lot of opposition), but several bus services to/from villages have been cut in recent years and therefore need bringing up to a reasonable standard before such schemes can even be considered. As Cambridge is growing and house prices are increasing (whether renting or buying) many people are having to move out of the City altogether and out to surrounding villages. But several bus services have been cut, meaning those who thought they were moving to a commutable area are now having to drive in to Cambridge to work (for example a morning bus might get someone from Comberton to Cambridge, but following timetable changes over the last couple of years they would now have to catch the evening bus by a certain time – meaning they could not work late if needed; or those who do shift work often can’t get buses at all) and also for pleasure (many villages have no buses on a Saturday evening or at all on a Sunday). This works both ways, and means Cambridge residents often can’t consider jobs (or social activities) in some of the surrounding villages, due to lack of public transport.

A lot of the buses that do travel in and around Cambridge seem bigger than needed, therefore reducing some of these to single decker buses might help too.

If Cambridge is going to house all the staff moving to Cambridge, as well as existing residents who are inappropriately housed in the City and surrounding areas, then transport must be given a certain amount of priority. If people cannot afford to live in Cambridge itself, cannot commute to/from Cambridge by public transport because there aren’t any buses, and cannot afford to commute because buses are so expensive (often twice the price of London buses), then we are likely to see the detrimental effects more acutely as time goes on.

In summary

Although congestion is obviously an issue that we need to address in and around Cambridge, it seems the PCCP proposals have highlighted a number of adverse impacts and unintended consequences. There will be effects on residents and local businesses which will affect the local economy, but most concerning of all are the impacts on health, care and wellbeing. Indeed, it seems that far from the proposals “securing future economic growth and quality of life” (as per the City Deal aims), they could end up doing the opposite.

What can we do?

Make sure you complete the City Deal survey (direct link also available here). The City Deal website says that people can respond to the consultation up to Monday 10th October – tomorrow! You can also email the City Deal officers at: City.Deal@cambridgeshire.gov.uk.

Having been at a meeting with City Deal officers recently, they highlighted that people filling in the consultation (or emailing them) with specific examples, would help them assess impact. So please be as specific as you can with your responses.






Local Plan for Mill Road

RomseyCambridge City Council are currently consulting on sites within the Local Plan area and asking all residents to make any comments they want to by Monday (18th February). The specific document that refers to sites (both available and future ones) within Cambridge is the Local Plan: Issues & Options 2 – Part 2 document. If you’ve already had a look, you’ll see that there are various sites in the Mill Road area that are under discussion. These include the Travis Perkins site on Devonshire Road (p 43), the Ridgeons site on Cromwell Road (p 49), 315-349 Mill Road (p 67) and the Mill Road Council Depot (p 45).

For the Mill Road area I would like to see some more green space, we have a particular lack of it in Petersfield and some of the sites could be used in whole or part to achieve this as well as have some usable community space. We also have a shortage of realistically affordable housing in the area and I think with the right design and considerations we need to look at residential developments on some of these sites. We have the opportunity to shape the future of the area and make sure that whatever happens to these sites fits with what the community wants and needs.

Argyle Street Housing Co-operativeMany of you will know my fondness for co-operatives and the role that I have played at Argyle Street Housing Co-operative (ASH Co-op) over the years. ASH Co-op is proposing that a fully mutual housing co-operative be built on the Mill Road Depot site and I think this could be really great for the area. It would provide affordable, sustainable housing (for people of all ages) which would be run by its residents and be community led. I see from the Local Plan document that there are potential issues with the site, such as access, cycling provision and a lack of green space in the area – I think a housing housing co-operative on the Depot site would be able to address all these issues and provide space that the whole Mill Road community could share. Having lived at ASH for some years, I know the many benefits that co-operative living can bring – such as having a real say in your housing, being part of a friendly community (I know all 90 of my neighbours here at ASH!), training to help run the co-op (which is also very useful in employment terms), experience of managing projects and equipping people with tools they can use to play an active and participative role in the wider community. For more information about what is being proposed, please visit the ASH Co-op website. Also here is a link to an article in the Cambridge News last year, that gives an insight into co-operative living.

If you want to comment on the housing co-operative idea or indeed any part of the Local Plan, please visit the consultation page on the City Council’s website. It explains how you can respond online or complete a form to deliver by hand. However you respond, make sure you do it by the deadline – 5pm on Monday!

The life (and potential death) cycle…

I’ve read an interesting blog post that talks about a recent cycle journey the writer (the Cottenham Cyclist) did along Mill Road and the various safety issues this highlighted to them. This, coupled with a cyclist/car collision I heard about on the corner of Argyle Street/Mill Road a couple of weeks ago, has got me thinking about just how safe it is (or indeed isn’t) to cycle in Cambridge…

BicycleEven though I have lived in Cambridge for many years, I don’t own a bike and certainly wouldn’t call myself a cyclist. But this is not because I can’t or don’t want to cycle – it’s because I daren’t. I love cycling (or at least I used to) but I’ve seen all manner of near misses on our roads and feel that cycling is not safe enough for me to consider as a transport option in Cambridge. I have been on several buses and in taxis over the years where the drivers are right behind a cyclist – if the cyclist doesn’t keep up their pace even for just a second, the vehicle behind could end up crushing them. There have been incidents where the bus driver has driven off after hitting a cyclist and I was even witness to one of these myself. This may sound like I am blaming taxi drivers and bus drivers for our cycle-safety woes – but I should point out that the majority are (thankfully) considerate road users, and in any case it’s all types of road/pavement user that I feel need to look at their behaviour.

I have seen cyclists turn into Argyle Street from near Mill Road bridge, only to be confronted by a car driver going the wrong way. I have also seen drivers turn into the same street, only to be confronted with a cyclist going the wrong way. Some years ago I did suggest clearer signage on Argyle Street to show that it is indeed one-way, but was told that other residents had complained that there was already too much signage locally. I think Mill Road itself would be safer if the 20 mph speed limit was enforced, although I have to admit the existing signage isn’t very clear at all – I have lived around Mill Road for many years but only became aware of the new limit when a local   councillor pointed it out to me (many months after it had been implemented!). The 20 mph signs are small in diameter and even though they ‘technically’ fit with legal requirements, I feel they are not big enough. Also, some of the signs are at the wrong angle and so it is not clear which road/bit of road they apply to. If it’s confusing for me as a local resident, it will no doubt be confusing for visitors and those that don’t use Mill Road very often. I would actually like to see a designated cycle lane on Mill Road and think this would enable many more people to use bikes (instead of cars).

Thinking about it, I realise that not being able to cycle safely in Cambridge has had a notable effect on my social life. For example, the Portland Arms is a great gig venue (quite possibly Cambridge’s best, especially after the sad demise of the Boat Race…) and I like to go along when I can. However, I do not want to be walking back late across town and even though I do occasionally get taxis or buses, the costs can soon mount up. If I felt that cycling on the roads was safe I would probably go to more events there (and the lovely landlord and landlady would no doubt be happy to receive more of my amiable Guinness-drinking custom!).

Cambridge City CentreThe same is also true of shopping. Luckily I can get just about anything I want or need on or around Mill Road, though there are times when I want to pop into town for something yet I end up not going. Of course the walk is healthy, but sometimes I am short for time and just want to do a quick visit – however, I know a walk into town will be at least an hours round trip. Parking charges are prohibitively expensive and in any case driving into town just doesn’t feel very environmentally aware, and buses are too unreliable and also expensive. I remember one occasion where I was just about to walk into town when a friend arrived on my doorstep. When the friend suggested I take their bike into town whilst they put the kettle on, I duly set off. However, after just a few metres I found myself walking on the pavement with the bike (cycling on the pavement is illegal if you’re over 15 – unless you’re accompanying a child) as I was too scared to cycle on the road. The round trip to town took an hour and a quarter with the cumbersome and unridable bike, and that was the last time I cycled in this country.

It’s also worth noting that not being able to cycle safely in Cambridge has had an effect on the local jobs market – driving by car in rush hour is seemingly pointless (not to mention not very green), buses are too unreliable (I used to work in Histon, but this would take up to an hour and a half each way, as buses were regularly late/cancelled) and cycling is too much of a hazard. In fact I have even discounted some fantastic jobs simply because I couldn’t get there safely and within a reasonable amount of time each day. In a city that’s now seemingly expected to spearhead the UK’s economic recovery, this is worrying.

I know there are many others who are scared to cycle in Cambridge, and if it’s stopping me from visiting shops and businesses in the centre and on the other side of town then it is more than likely stopping others from visiting Mill Road too. In fact I mentioned on Twitter that I would be writing a blog post about local cycling and some people responded to say that they too avoid certain shops and areas (including Mill Road)specifically because they are not cycle-friendly.

BicyclesI know I am not the only one who is too scared to cycle (a quick poll of friends and neighbours suggests there’s many)   and I think the issue is one that needs to be recognised. The fact that we are (rightly) trying to reduce people’s reliance on the car and encourage greener travel makes it all the more important that we do something now. I note that Graham Bright (the new Cambridgeshire Police & Crime Commissioner) is putting cycling at the top of his priority list. Whilst this is admirable and we certainly need to take action on those that break the law, I feel that the necessary long term behavioural changes that we need will come from a more strategic view of cycling; and strategy is the responsibility of Cambridgeshire County Council (who are responsible for our highways, transport and streets). The County Council’s strategy and plans certainly include cycling and it seems that safety is now on the agenda – which is good. There is also a voluntary group called Camcycle, who are already doing some very admirable work on improving cycling accessibility and who are proposing a designated cycle route called the Chisholm Trail. I think the trail is a fantastic idea (though admittedly the finer details of its exact path may need a little work, as a not-to-scale map I recently saw appeared to route it through my house…) and I think this could actually get me cycling again, though it is likely to be some years yet before we see this come to fruition. A joined up approach to improving cycling safety – though with each group focussing on its main area of responsibility – will hopefully result in some much needed changes.

Thankfully most people use care and common sense on our pavements and roads, but the number of people that don’t is still significant. So I have drawn up a (wish) list of actions that we can all take that I feel would go some way towards improving cycling/road safety in our city, right now. The list is based on my own experiences of using our city’s roads and pavements.

  • Cyclists: Please be aware that one way streets are also one-way for cyclists, unless specifically stated otherwise.
  • Cyclists: It is illegal to cycle on the pavement unless you are under 16 or are accompanying a cycling child.
  • Cyclists: Please make sure your bike has a bell and that you use it if the person you are about to pass doesn’t know you’re there, especially on pavements. You do not have right of way on the pavement.
  • Cyclists: Even though you are a cyclist, 20mph speed limits still apply to you.
  • Cyclists: Please don’t use your hand-held mobile phone to have a conversation (or even worse – text!) whilst cycling. This makes you a danger not just to yourself but others too (hands-free devices are not actually much safer either, but I won’t go into that here).
  • Cyclists: Traffic lights also apply to you – please don’t cycle through pedestrian crossings when there is a red light.
  • Drivers: Please don’t drive so close behind cyclists. If there’s an accident it will be your fault and your conscience.
  • Drivers: If a cyclist makes a mistake or even downright inconsiderately cuts you up, please don’t beep your horn repeatedly/shout and swear at them, this is intimidating (to observers too, not just the cyclist) and only increases the chance of an accident – which will likely be your fault.
  • Drivers: Please don’t drive right up behind a cyclist after they’ve cut you up, to try and teach them a lesson – this is extreme road rage and quite frankly you shouldn’t be on the road yourself if this is your attitude.
  • Drivers: Please look out for cyclists coming behind you from the wrong side, they may be in the wrong but you still have a responsibility to be aware of hazards.
  • Drivers: Please don’t rev your engine when behind a cyclist – it’s intimidating and could cause an accident.
  • Drivers: If you are driving over Mill Road bridge, or indeed any ‘uphill’ journey, please don’t drive right behind cyclists. Sometimes the uphill is too much for a cyclist and they have to stop – if you’re right behind them when this happens you could well kill them.
  • Taxi drivers: When a passenger points to a sign saying a street is one-way, please don’t ignore them by driving the wrong way because you think it’s quicker.
  • Bus drivers: If a passenger says they’re pretty sure you’ve just hit a cyclist, please don’t ignore them and just carry on driving.
  • Pedestrians: Please look out for cyclists cutting across pedestrian crossings, even though they are meant to stop.
  • Pedestrians: Please look out for cyclists on the pavement – they shouldn’t be there (unless they’re a child or accompanying one), but often appear anyway.
  • Pedestrians: Please don’t walk in cycle lanes, it’s dangerous and could cause a collision.

BicycleIt may sound as though I am giving cyclists, drivers and indeed pedestrians a  hard time. I suppose I am, but it is in all our interests and all the points I’ve made are based on my own personal experiences and observations here in Cambridge. I know there are cyclists who will say that drivers are to blame for the unsafeness and I know there are drivers who will say that cyclists need to change their behaviour – I actually think everyone needs to be considerate and I don’t think ‘blame’ can be pinned on one particular group. Tackling the issues needs a joint effort. I have heard the idea of bike licencing suggested, and whilst I’m not sure how desirable/practical this is I do think there needs to be some (re)education of both drivers and cyclists.

Cambridge is far behind other European cities (such as Copenhagen) – when I go abroad I see dedicated cycle lanes on most roads and cyclists can travel across cities without having to go on-road at all. It’s also interesting that Cambridge is one of the best known UK cities for cycling, yet came only 60th (!) in a survey of the UK’s most cycle-friendly towns and cities.The Chisholm Trail will thankfully address some of the issues we have here in Cambridge, but as far as I can see from the proposed map, there’s no cycle lane/s proposed for Mill Road itself – I think this is needed. It should also be noted that Cambridge is a tourist destination and has many visitors from other parts of the UK and abroad, and many of these people won’t be used to seeing the sheer number of bikes we have here – so it’s important to bear this in mind when using our roads. In the same token, I think many of our visitors aren’t necessarily aware of our rules about cycling on the pavement (especially as we don’t have many cycle lanes) so I would like to see the universities, colleges and other similar establishments that host residents/guests reinforce this message to those that stay/study with them.

In terms of action I would like to see:

  • Cambridgeshire County Council make it a priority to look at strategic and behavioural changes that are needed to improve cycling safety. I know they are already doing some good work, but I feel we need more – for example, I would like to see dedicated cycle lanes on most of our roads in Cambridge. Whilst I don’t like surveys for the sake of surveys and I suspect I already know some of the answers, I wonder if there’s any mileage in doing a resident survey on cycling? – it’s not just cyclists that feel cycling isn’t safe enough, it’s would-be-cyclists like me too. Also, I think they need to improve Mill Road’s 20 mph signage before the police can realistically enforce it.
  • The Police & Crime Commissioner make it a priority to tackle those that break the law. My list above contains plenty of examples (both of cyclists and drivers) but as a starting point I would suggest enforcement of the 20mph speed limit on Mill Road (though only once the signage has been improved), police patrols so that all those (both cyclists and drivers) who drive the wrong way on one way streets are tackled, a clamp-down on cyclists using hand-held devices whilst cycling (and of course on car drivers too) and also tackling drivers who intimidate cyclists.
  • Camcycle are already doing some great campaigning work in promoting better and safer cycling, but they are a voluntary group and the responsibility for implementing necessary changes should not fall to them. I do hope they are able to get Cambridge to push forward with the Chisholm Trail proposals, as this will make a huge difference to us all.

I just want to be able to cycle safely, in Cambridge – it would make my life a lot easier and would probably increase business at all manner of shops, pubs and lovely places I want to visit in and around Cambridge, not to mention increase business here on Mill Road.